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Re: [textualcriticism] Stephen Carlson's "Gospel Hoax" on Secret Mark

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  • Stephen C. Carlson
    ... I m glad you ve found much to like in the book. The book presents three independent cases for Smith s respective compositions. Different people seem to
    Message 1 of 31 , Dec 1, 2005
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      At 04:29 PM 11/30/2005 +0000, Peter Head wrote:
      >Well I've know received my copy and have read through it once. Firstly I
      >want to congratulate Stephen on a really nice job - clear, well argued,
      >apparently persuasive, and if successful ridding us of a problem. Also I
      >think Baylor has done an excellent promotion (blogs etc. have also had a
      >part in this). Baylor are publishing some other useful books too recently.
      >I had expected, from discussions with various people who had read it in an
      >earlier form, that it would be the concrete evidence on the hand-writing
      >that would be the most original and persuasive contribution of the book. But
      >I didn't find that to be the case. I found some of the more general
      >considerations (esp. on homosexual activity in antiquity and the 1950s) more
      >compelling. The raising of suspicions has been done before, what we need to
      >convict is proof. But that I'm not yet sure I've seen.

      I'm glad you've found much to like in the book. The book presents three
      independent cases for Smith's respective compositions. Different people
      seem to find different parts of the cases more compelling than others.
      Every time someone reacts to the book constructively, I do find ways of
      improving its exposition.

      >Specifically I don't find convincing the argument on p. 42f that the hand of
      >MS 22 (figure 5A = also the front cover) is the same hand as that of
      >Theodore. For such a critical argument (one of the few that involve concrete
      >testable issues rather than suspicious/possibly trickery) the actual basis
      >for it is rather slim and vague (resemblances of a few letters etc.), and
      >very little of the relevant text is shown in the photograph (not enough to
      >get a clear idea even what it is about). To me the differences are clear and
      >this whole part of the argument doesn't actually work.

      I would certainly be nice to have more of the Madiotes text, but we do have
      enough of it to know in conjunction with Smith's catalog entry that there was
      a 20th century person imitating an 18th century hand in books that Smith
      cataloged at Mar Saba. That fact alone means that the 10 oral paleographic
      opinions of Smith's colleagues are not worth the paper they're written on.

      As for the identification itself, no other hand of the several I examined
      from Mar Saba comes anywhere as close to the hand of Theodore as that of
      Madiotes among several diverse characteristics (execution of the strokes,
      letter shapes, pen nib width), and the differences fall within the range
      of variation exhibited by the hand of Theodore. The identification is
      made even easier when the size of the population of 20th cen. individuals
      with access to Mar Saba and imitating 18th cen. handwriting is considered.

      >Nor do I find any
      >significant association between the samples of Smith's Greek hand and the
      >photos of Theodore.

      Really? We are dealing with a case of *disguised* handwriting; we're not
      trying to determine whether two instances of normal handwriting come from
      the same person (which is the more usual question in paleography). Good
      imitators can usually mask their normal handwriting traits, so there is
      normally no expectation of finding any similarities at all. However, less
      competent imitators have been known to lapse into their natural hand, so
      the fact that it was possible to match any of the lapses in the hand of
      Theodore to Smith's handwriting is highly significant.

      >I'd be interested to know from Stephen the order of his own
      >thinking on this subject. Did he firstly see the supposed similarity of
      >hand-style and then think about Madiotes? Or was it the other way around? He
      >saw that Madiotes could be conceived of as a clue and then wonder about the

      It was my noticing the similarity of the hands that spurred me to do
      what I should have done earlier: read and translate all the catalog
      entries of Smith's from the Modern Greek. Then it took me a while to
      discover the meaning of Madiotes. Perhaps the book's treatment of this
      issue would have benefited from a more logical, rather than chronological,
      exposition of this aspect of the case (i.e., use Smith's identification
      of Madiotes as an input into the identification of the hand rather than
      vice versa)?

      >Secondly I have my doubts about the relevance of this so-called expertise in
      >hand-writing analysis in connection with forgery of signatures in
      >contemporary English to the problem at hand. No-one doubts that Theodore is
      >a copied text so everyone would expect to find in it indications of
      >hesitation etc. that come from copying techniques. You'd need to have a test
      >that could distinguish 20th cent copying of a 20th cent exemplar (Morton
      >Smith) from 18th cent copying from an unknown exemplar (A.N. Other). But
      >there is no such test proposed. The confidence expressed here in 'forger's
      >tremor' seems unwarranted: there is no 18th Cent original that Smith is
      >trying to copy/imitate.

      I don't quite understand the objection. The samples of genuine Mar Saba
      handwritings in FIGS. 2A-2C are from copying their exemplars yet they do
      not show the evidence of the "forger's tremor." Indeed, these writings
      are noticeably more fluent than the supposed hurried cursive of Theodore.
      Also, the 20th century imitative writing of M. Madiotes in FIGS 4A-4B
      exhibits the indications of hesistations even though it does not seem to
      be copied from an exemplar (i.e., the phrase "TO PARO[" looks like the
      beginning of a line that reads "TO PARO[N BIBLION ...", a common phrase
      in marking the ownership of a book.).

      The forensic handwriting analysis shows that the hand was written much
      more slowly (and less expertly) than its "hurried cursive" appearance
      would indicate. This is indicated by the combination of the shakiness
      of the lines in the presence of retouching and patching, nice margins,
      that otherwise demonstrates the scribe's fine motor control. (Advanced
      age as a cause for the tremor is thus contradicted by the scribe's fine
      motor control in other aspects of the document.)

      True, a copied text would be written slowly, but that leaves the mystery
      of the the writer's choice to use a cursive hand and take the time, with
      patching and retouching, to ensure that the result looks like a quickly
      written cursive, despite the underlying reality. Cursive handwriting
      sacrifices legibility for speed. The scribe of Secret Mark, however,
      obtained neither legibility nor speed. For some reason, the *appearance*
      of a quickly written cursive was more important to the scribe than whether
      it was actually written quickly or legibly. In this case, the superficial
      appearance of the hand is deceptive of its reality.

      The deceptively hurried appearance of the cursive handwriting in light
      of its actual, slow execution is what *raises* the question of forgery.
      Notice that I said "raises," not "proves." We don't have the actual
      exemplar to make that judgment solely from the forensic handwriting
      analysis (e.g., what if there was an 18th century monk who writes like
      that normally?), but we are not limited solely to the forensic analysis.
      Among the many samples of 18th century Mar Saba handwriting I looked at,
      I couldn't find such an example -- except for the sample from M. Madiotes,
      which Smith confidently dated to the 20th century! Perhaps that's just
      a coincidence. If so, then so must be the case that Madiotes is a
      pseudonym. And if both are coincidences, the fact that the meaning of
      Madiotes just so happens to describe Smith must also be a coincidence.
      Now, coincidences do happen, especially if they are isolated, but when
      they happen to cluster where there is also evidence of deception, well,
      it's time to remember the reason for the word "critical" in "critical

      Furthermore, the forensic forgery analysis, by itself, does not tell
      us *when* it was simulated. For example, Murusillo suggested an 18th
      cen. forgery. This is where the anomalous letter forms for the period
      become important. The anomalies not only belong to the 20th century,
      they are also found in Smith's handwriting. We generally do not expect
      an 18th century forger to lapse into 20th cen. Greek handwriting, much
      less those of the document's eventual discoverer. Maybe those too are
      coincidences. "When it rains, it pours," I suppose.

      Stephen Carlson
      Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
      Weblog: http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog/
      Author of: The Gospel Hoax, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932792481
    • Peter Head
      Thanks again Stephen - that is a good job and a good reply, The photo and caption in Secret Gospel are useful here (in support of your case - clearer than the
      Message 31 of 31 , Dec 6, 2005
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        Thanks again Stephen - that is a good job and a good reply,

        The photo and caption in Secret Gospel are useful here (in support of your
        case - clearer than the photo in your book actually) and it does look like
        5A is the front page of the book = f.1.r.
        Together with the information you provided that:
        one of whose lines reads "MONAXOU KAI ARXIMANDRITOU."
        That certainly fits with Smith's catalogue description.
        No names noted as yet, and also 'tacit withdrawals' on your side!

        My 'tacit withdrawal' of the alternative proposal was more of a strategic
        withdrawal (I'd rather try to disprove your identification than to have to
        prove the alternative). But now I'm willing to acquiesce (surrender) to the
        proposed identification of 5A = f.1.r. [I'd be even happier to know that
        someone had seen the relevant names on this sheet as well of course, but as
        a working hypothesis this does seem to be the only viable option on the table]

        Presumably your confidence that the upper text is Madiotes comes from the
        order of treatment in Smith's catalogue.

        Cheers for now


        At 02:52 PM 12/5/05, you wrote:
        >At 10:28 AM 12/5/2005 +0000, Peter Head wrote:
        > >What you are saying is that you considered various possibilities for the
        > >identification of the page in the photo 5A, including the one I have
        > >proposed (but which you did not adopt). But I wonder whether there is ANY
        > >positive evidence for the identification you adopt?
        > >
        > >According to Smith the Madiotes sheet is:
        > >a) f.1.r: i.e. the opening sheet of the whole book
        >The page is either f.1.r (rightside-up) or f.17.v (upside-
        >down). The orientation of the handwriting at the top of
        >the page would indicate that, unless it is upside-down, it
        >is the f.1.r page.
        >Further confirmation of the orientation of the book comes
        >from Smith's caption for the picture (SECRET GOSPEL, p.
        >37) states: "The endpaper, here turned down, was a page
        >from a Georgian manuscript. . . . The leather edge of the
        >binding is seen at the left; the bound, modern Greek
        >manuscript, at the right." The word "down" is appropriate
        >if the page is f.1.r; it is inappropriate if the page is
        >f.17.v. The consistency of Smith's numbering of the pages
        >in his catalog with his description of the orientation of
        >the MS in his photo means that the page must be f.1.r.
        >Further corroboration, should that even be necessary, comes
        >from the content of the second hand (both as listed in the
        >catalog and from the top-down in the MS), which is assigned
        >by Smith to "the monk Dionysios, Archimandrite", one of whose
        >lines reads "MONAXOU KAI ARXIMANDRITOU." [Negatively, for
        >the f.17.v. identification, none of the content shown in the
        >photo corresponds to "Luke, son of the blessed Panagiotos,
        >the tailor (ampatzes)."]
        >In light of the tacit withdrawal of the alternative proposal,
        >which had confounded not only recto and verso but also Greek
        >and Latin letters, I see no reasonable basis to question the
        >identification of the page as f.1.r.
        >Stephen Carlson
        >Stephen C. Carlson mailto:scarlson@...
        >Weblog: http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog/
        >Author of: The Gospel Hoax, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1932792481

        Peter M. Head, PhD
        Sir Kirby Laing Senior Lecturer in New Testament
        Tyndale House
        36 Selwyn Gardens Phone: (UK) 01223
        Cambridge, CB3 9BA Fax: (UK) 01223 566608
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